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From The Vault: Christian Boundary Markers III

July 16, 2009

“Don’t smoke.  Don’t Chew.  Don’t go with girls who do.”

There have been a few assumptions so far in discussing Christian boundary markers.  First, that some Christians have external boundary markers!  That should be pretty obvious from the title of the posts; however, it is not merely the presence of these boundary markers it is their placement of superiority as a proof of a “real” Christian.  There are a variety of these Christian boundary markers and some are valued more highly than others in certain communities:  no smoking, no swearing, no drinking, no sex, definitely no homosexuality, no bad thoughts… a lot of things we don’t do.

Similar to the other boundary marker we discussed this is a complicated topic as well.  Let’s take drinking for instance.  I have yet to hear this story: “You know my life was terrible.  I didn’t have any real friends.  My family life was terrible.  I couldn’t get along with my wife.  My kids were out of control, but then I discovered alcohol.  I started to drink, and then I drank some more.  All I do now is drink as much and whenever I can.  And I’ve got to tell you my life has never been better.  I’ve got a great job.  Me and the wife have never got along better.  The kids are well behaved.  Pretty much alcohol has saved my life…”

We all know that story isn’t out there.

So I don’t want anyone misconstruing my words and thinking that our freedom is an opportunity for destructive behavior.  However, when abstaining from alcohol becomes the criteria by which we judge someone to be a “good” or “bad” Christian we may have moved from biblical sources to more external criteria.

I think there is one question that can be asked in this case that may shed light on the subject:  In your theology is the Christian life characterized by the absence of things or by the presence of things? I believe that when Jesus said that he came so that we may live life–and not just life, but live life more abundantly–it was not meant to be a life characterized by what we do not do and do not have.

The man that can go to church on Sunday morning, know all the lyrics to the songs, and say the right things to the right people, and can seem OK because he doesn’t smoke or drink, but then have the rest of his week characterized by unethical behavior at work, anger, broken relationships, bitterness, and a total uncharitable disposition towards his fellow man is not the Christian life I find in the Bible.  However, with the elevation of Christian boundary markers characterized by who we aren’t and what we do not do it has become–I fear–a more normal pattern for many.

This topic is very complicated and I don’t want to leave anyone with the illusion that I think I have reduced it and solved the issue; however, the tendency to take the legitimate practices and ideas of one era and make them legalistic practices and turn them into the idols of another are so inherent in human behavior that we must always analyze our belief and behavior patterns and stomp this tendency out wherever we find it amongst ourselves.

The Christian life, the human community that has found peace with God, the church that experiences covenant fullness should be characterized by the presence of certain behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, and actions.  It is only when these are missing on the one hand do we often turn to the other and begin to describe ourselves and others by what we are not.  When this happens we must always repent and ask God to remind us what we are, and ask Him for the strength to live that out.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2009 3:17 pm

    Good stuff Scott. It is sad that instead of being known for real community, compassion or social justice, the popular image of evangelicals is more like Dana Carvey’s classic sketch “The Church Lady” on SNL.

  2. Peter permalink
    July 19, 2009 12:24 pm

    Head of nail hit. Good on you.

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